Published by Sally on December 20, 2011

Valle dell'Acate

Valle dell'Acate

A two hour – Italian-style driving – journey south and slightly west of Mount Etna lies Sicily’s only DOCG, Cerasuolo di Vittoria, in Ragusa province, awarded in 2005. Before that it had been Sicily’s first red wine to achieve DOC status, in 1973.

It’s made from frappato, which is a thin-skinned variety, and in this appellation, it is blended with the island’s king of reds, nero d’avola, in proportions of 30 to 50% frappato, 50 to 70% nero d’avola.

Modern technology and knowledge has fundamentally improved the fate of frappato. Marco Calcaterra of Avide started in the region in the early 1980s, using temperature-controlled stainless steel to better extract a little more colour from the pale frappato. He explained this was a turning point for vinification in the area: “at the beginning” he said “Cerasuolo di Vittoria was a light colour because there were three kinds of maceration: 12, 24 or 36 hours, without temperature control.” Frappato quickly loses its colour pigments at higher temperatures, but, said Calcaterra “working at 22-23°C lets you get the best part of its colour.”

Calcaterra describes frappato as a semi-aromatic variety saying “the fragrance [in the wine] comes from frappato, it has a good concentration of terpenic compounds, though not as much as muscat.”  These are what give frappato its floral and blossom aromas.

Despite needing close attention to colour development, frappato retains its acidity well in the basking warmth of southern Sicily, and it is this variety that adds acid backbone to nero d’avola in Cerasuolo di Vittoria. Calcaterra said “frappato is one of the first [grape varieties] that has body, but the last to reach ripeness. And on average its acidity will be 6-7 g/l [tartaric], only losing about 0.5g/l in the winemaking.”

So in Cerasuolo di Vittoria, frappato provides cherry fragrance and acid lift to the blend, nero d’avola adds flesh and structure. And where nero d’avola on its own can become broad-shouldered and muscley, blending with frappato moderates its exuberance, bringing it into a more medium bodied wine and with greater aromatic profile.

Frappato is specialised in this Cerasuolo di Vittoria, with only 840 hectares for the whole of the island.  This is less than 1% of Sicily’s total vineyard.  By contrast, the much more widely planted nero d’avola comprises some 18,800ha across the whole of the island.

Barrique ageing has been a development over the last quarter of a century, which has led to a more serious, full-bodied style of Cerasuolo di Vittoria.  At Valle dell’Acate, Francesco Ferreri explained they started maturing nero d’avola in barrique, and have more recently moved to 500-litre French wood casks for a softer impact. This they then blend with frappato made in inert containers as, he said, the theme for Cerasuolo di Vittoria DOCG, “is an elegant wine rather than powerful wine.”

The origins of frappato are beginning to emerge via DNA analysis. Sicily has always been at a crossroads of Mediterranean trade, so import at some stage in history is a distinct possibility, and recent DNA studies have suggested a link to sangiovese in a parental role.

There are around 7,000 hectares of grapes grown in the Cerasuolo di Vittoria appellation.

Don’t confuse it with Cerasuolo di Montepulciano which is a rosé wine made in the Abruzzo region from montepulciano grapes.

Tasting notes in situ, June 2011

Az. Vitivinicola Avide, Cerasuolo di Vittoria Classico 2008 ~€9
13.5%. 50% nero d’avola; 50% frappato. All stainless steel
Aromatic redcurrant and raspberry, soft and supple attack, sweet fruit, lush and medium-full body, gentle, fragrant spiciness on the palate core. Fresh and flavoursome. Smooth and with some elegance. And fresh finish.

Az. Vitivinicola Avide, Barocco Cerasuolo di Vittoria Classico DOCG 2005
14%. 30% frappato, 70% nero d’avola. Two and half years in barrique, plus one and a half years in bottle.  Smoky, rich, blackcurrant nose, with dense, sweet fruit, and mid palate fragrance. This is a remarkably youthful, gentle giant sort of wine.  Tasty.

Valle dell’Acate, Cerasuolo di Vittoria Classico DOCG 2008 ExC€6.5
13.5%. 30% frappato, 70% nero d’avola. The nero d’avola was in barrique/tonneau for 8 months, some new, before blending with frappato.
Spicy nose, of dark, black hedgerow fruits. Medium to full body, with a dark, almost savoury spiciness, with fine-young-grainy tannins still needing to integrate.

My research visit to Sicily in June 2011 was sponsored by the Sicilian Regional Institute for Viticulture and Wine.

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